For Aerin Frankel, there was little left to prove. Her list of accomplishments is lengthy. For Kaidan Mbereko, it was another opportunity to showcase his skills in front of an organization he hopes to impact in the future.
And for David Lassonde, it was a chance to resume getting back to normalcy and download more data on prospects that USA Hockey could be featuring on an international stage.
Last weekend, USA Hockey held its National Goaltending Camp, the first it had conducted after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty-nine of the top American goaltenders (18 males, 11 females) ages 17-22 attended the camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
“We at USA Hockey feel that it is a necessary camp,” said Lassonde, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach. “We’re excited to bring it back and feel it is a necessary evaluation tool.”
Many of the prospects who were at the four-day camp were trying to stay sharp between seasons and improve themselves as they get ready for the next step in their playing career, whether that be the USHL, college or professional.
Frankel, who turned 23 just after the camp, was perhaps the most decorated player in attendance. She just finished her college career at Northeastern, where she won the 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award as the best women’s college hockey player, broke the record for NCAA single season save percentage (.971 in 2021) and had 40 shutouts (12 this season). And as many of the prospects aspire to, Frankel has already seen action with the Women’s National Team in the Rivalry Series against Canada.
So why did she feel the need to attend?
“I think it’s a really awesome opportunity for me and for all the other goalies,” said Frankel, who is from Chappaqua, New York. “There’s such a tremendous staff here and they’re committed to making us our best even though it’s a short camp. They’re throwing a lot of things at us and I think that it’s important to pay attention to what you like and what doesn’t work for you and add to some of the areas of your own game, stuff that a lot of coaches are bringing from all around the country whether it’s at the NHL level, USHL, whatever it may be. There are so many great minds here.”
She spent her final year at Northeastern pursuing master’s degrees in criminal justice and psychology, which she hopes to complete in August. Now, Frankel is figuring out what is next.
“There’s a bunch of options on the women’s side and none are exactly cut and dried,” said Frankel. “I’m educating myself on the different options out there and obviously have been talking to a lot of people in the hockey world and the resources that I have of girls who have been involved in the [Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association] and the [Premier Hockey Federation]. I’ve just been gathering a lot of information from everyone and I haven’t made a decision yet but I look to make one this summer.”
Still, being around America’s top up-and-coming goaltending talent was exciting.
“I know a lot of the women goalies just through NCAA and playing against them and seeing at past camps,” Frankel said, “but this camp honestly adds a unique element with overlapping with the men’s goalies, so it’s been nice to get to know them. We did some team bonding, played some card games and stuff. They seem like really great guys and they’re really fun to watch.”
Mbereko, on the other hand, is just beginning his college career. After playing with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars this season, the 18-year-old from Aspen, Colorado, is staying close to home and playing for Colorado College this fall. And like Frankel, Mbereko is gathering all the knowledge he can.
“This is definitely an opportunity to learn,” Mbereko said. “You have all the best coaches from the NHL, college, juniors and more. So just soaking in as much information as possible from everybody is probably the biggest thing because you can get a view from each level, especially me going to college next year. I was trying to learn from Coach Peter [Aubry], who is [the Chicago Blackhawks’] developmental goaltending coach. That was probably one of the best things for me to just learn what he had to say and how the game moves faster and kind of how our job is to elevate. Every time on the ice with those guys and even outside the ice is an opportunity to learn and grow your game. So I thought that was great.”
In his only season with the Stars, Mbereko posted an 18-11-1-2 record with a 3.01 goals-against average and .898 save percentage. The previous two seasons, he was with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Like any player his age, he was excited last year about potentially being selected in the NHL Draft.
However, he felt the harsh reality of the business side of hockey when he went undrafted. Mbereko has a much different approach to this year’s Draft, where he is just outside the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s top 32 North American goalies after being 19th in the midterm rankings.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Mbereko said. “If I get drafted, great, if I don’t, great too. I’m always just going to focus on my game and doing everything I can to make the move up to the next level and the ultimate goal is just playing in the NHL. One thing that’s been said in this camp is, ‘Control what you can control.’ Even last year’s draft, I didn’t get drafted, but I felt like this year, I had a great year and I was able to just focus on my game and doing what I need to do to get better and get ready for college.”
With the slew of other talented goalies in camp, Mbereko embraced the competition and the chance to prove himself in front of the various coaches on hand.
“A little bit [of pressure], but it’s great because pressure is earned and it’s good to have those pressures and go through that,” Mbereko said. “Especially at this camp and just really knowing what it’s like to have that and still wanting to execute under the pressure so I kind of love it.”
Seeing all the goalies in action over the weekend isn’t the only exposure USA Hockey evaluators have to the players as they’ll be watching film, doing in-person scouting and having conversations with coaches around the nation.
Being able to have 29 of the top amateur goalies in the country just adds another benchmark to analyze the person and their skills as USA Hockey looks to build future rosters for various competitions.
“The ultimate goal is to gather more information,” Lassonde said. “When we sent out the invitation to the 29 goalies that are here, part of the invitation indicated that there are people within USA Hockey that feel that these goalies have an opportunity to someday potentially play on our national teams.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.